March 5, 2016

New York City, NY Review

On the night of March 5th, 2016, the Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage Concert took place in New York City at Madison Square Garden. This area holds a special place in my life as a Star Trek fan. During the late 1980s and 1990s, across the street from MSG, many Star Trek conventions were held at the Penn Hotel. In my youth I entered into the wider world of Star Trek fandom and celebrated my love for Star Trek amongst actors from the show and the Trek fan community. Last night, my wife and I were granted access before the show to visit backstage, meet with key players behind the scenes, and have a one-on-one with the conductor, Justin Freer. In our opinion, this has been the greatest celebration of Star Trek we have ever attended.

Many fans know that putting on a convention, such as I used to attend at the Penn Hotel, requires a large staff and we respect the job that is done at those shows. However, as we learned last night via the wonderful Tour Manager for Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, there are only eight staff members who are responsible for organizing the event on their 100-city tour. The staff hires locals in each city to assist various departments, but it is a very small crew for a show this grand. The work of these highly talented individuals shines in every detail. When taken to see the set backstage we were in awe of each aspect, and seeing it all come together in the performance only heightened our respect for everyone involved.

The tour manager next took us to a personal meet-and-greet with conductor Freer. A bit nervous, we sat and spoke with him for a few minutes about his admiration and mentorship with legendary composer and conductor Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith was Gene Roddenberry’s first choice to compose the score for the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage.” Due to scheduling conflicts, Goldsmith could not do it, but he did go on to compose the score for five Star Trek films and two spin-off shows.

Freer, who grew up with The Next Generation and was “indoctrinated with Picard…” admired Goldsmith from a young age and explored Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well as the fifth film in the series, The Final Frontier, which enticed Freer to watch The Original Series. Freer admired the escapism the producers on the original series had to create and loved the music for Star Trek. As Freer told us last night, Star Trek “transports you to escapist adventurism that not all music does. There are many examples outside of Star Trek, but to focus inside this universe many composers have taken a crack at writing incredible music, each upon the person before them, so it’s an amazing evolution.”

Regarding his study under Goldsmith, Freer continued, “Having had that opportunity to study with Jerry for a couple of years, unfortunately before he passed to cancer, it was not only a full circle moment for me as an admirer of him and the scores he wrote for Star Trek, but it also helped me understand why he was so good at it. This was a man who was a genius musician in every way, from form to harmony to melody, to orchestration to command of the instruments to conducting even. But what is most important was his using of these tools to create an emotional connection with the picture, and thats why we fall in love with film. When film and music work together its an unexplainable piece of magic.”

In speaking with Freer, we connected not only as fans of a show but understood more of his approach to creating, producing, and conducting Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage. The show we watch, the dialogue and stories take us to another world, but ultimately it is the music that creates the emotional bond we feel with particular scenes. It’s not just the adventures in space, exploring strange new worlds and understanding alien cultures that make Star Trek what it is, it is the challenges faced by humanity right here on Earth. Star Trek is celebrated in many ways throughout fandom, whether we choose to don a uniform, build props, or write for an independent production, what lies at the core should be the values Roddenberry set forth in the show. We are of the belief that Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, Conductor Justin Freer, and his team, have accomplished exactly that, giving us not only a celebration of what we love of Star Trek but the triumph of the human spirit.

After our chat with Mr Freer, we took our seats in the music hall, three rows from the stage. Having seen the set prior to the show was an incredible experience, a silent meditative moment before other attendees entered, and very similar to seeing the Enterprise awaiting to exit space dock on the show. The set was designed and dressed to transport you aboard the Enterprise, a large star field curtain hung behind the viewscreen, Enterprise A nacelles graced each side, and portions of the saucer section adorned the front and sides of the stage. In the rear of the stage sat the drum instruments within a horseshoe railing very similar to the bridge of the Enterprise D.

We had met the stage and lighting design creator and producer, Nick Whitehouse, a very friendly gentleman who did an exemplary job bringing the set to life throughout the whole concert. As the house lights dimmed and the Czech National Orchestra took the stage, the star field spectacularly bright in the background, we were within the universe of Star Trek. The conductor joined the orchestra and the main title from Star Trek: The Motion Picture opened our away mission into Federation space.

The opening cinematic accompaniment took us into a deep space exploration of the cosmos narrated by Michael Dorn (Worf in The Next Generation) in a similar narrative style to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s re-envisioning of Cosmos. Images of Kirk were transposed, such as Shatner’s climbing a mountain with Chris Pine’s climbing out of hole, and highlighted by the score of The Motion Picture and Generation, which elicited feelings of overcoming challenges. The narration cited Roddenberry’s vision of life in Kirk’s time, moving past acquisition of wealth, capitalism, and the betterment of humanity through each step in our journey together. The seamless flow of the music thoroughly enriches our connection not only to the scenes we have enjoyed from the films and series but adheres to the core values set forth in Star Trek.

From metaphors of “The Climb,” we moved into challenges our beloved characters have faced in their journey unto the final frontier, Klingons, and our ability to be human. The lighting of the stage and set was perfectly timed throughout each piece, which paralleled the flow of music and scene. The ancient philosophical concept of the Music of the Spheres, or Harmony of the Spheres speaks to how music regards the movement of celestial bodies and is not just an audible experience but a harmonic experience. This theory is very applicable to Star Trek and this concert as it is set in space, amongst planets and celestial bodies and the colored harmony reflects a flawless stage and lighting design.

Every choice of color and lighting movement illustrated a particular color associated with a race, faction, or starship in Star Trek, an unforgettable cohesion with our emotional connection with the music. The synchronicity of these elements, the use of the tools available in conducting the symphony, is an exquisite example of what Freer said of his mentor Jerry Goldsmith being a genius musician. However, Freer is Goldsmith’s successor in every way, the next generation, and has not only honored his mentor, but has molded a flawless symphonic experience, which honors Star Trek’s 50-year legacy and what it means to be a fan, thereby securing Star Trek’s place in time and space for generations to come. The music is timeless—it shall continue for generations ahead who forge further in the human adventure and the principles established within the show.

The Ultimate Voyage concert is an unforgettable journey, it is a majestic tour de force that promotes and expresses our love for the show, the love we have for the characters, and the losses we have endured, not only of characters but beloved actors. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for every Star Trek fan.

Written by: Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke